Last Wednesday, President Biden unveiled the first details of his administration’s infrastructure investment plan. Named “the American Jobs Plan,” it is a proposal to invest $2 trillion over a decade in American infrastructure, “that will create millions of good jobs, rebuild our country’s infrastructure, and position the United States to out-compete China.” In a show of trust in the country’s research community, investments in scientific research and infrastructure are featured in the plan.
The most significant research piece of the plan is $50 billion to the National Science Foundation to create, “a technology directorate that will collaborate with and build on existing programs across the government.” If a “technology directorate” sounds familiar, that’s because it is the main feature of Senator Schumer’s (D-NY) Endless Frontier Act which was introduced a year ago. The idea behind such an addition to NSF is that a technology development effort is needed for the country to better capitalize on its fundamental research into key industries of the future, such as AI and quantum. There are no further details in the President’s plan for this new directorate but it’s likely this part of the AJP will be taken up by Senator Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader.
In addition to the new NSF directorate, President Biden’s plan also calls on Congress to provide $30 billion in additional funding for, “R&D that spurs innovation and job creation, including in rural areas.” As well, the proposal also calls to invest $40 billion more in, “upgrading research infrastructure in laboratories across the country, including brick-and-mortar facilities and computing capabilities and networks.”
This all sounds great, but what’s the catch? Unfortunately, the American Jobs Plan is no more than a Fact Sheet right now, with only top line numbers and no specifics. As well, these investments don’t have a timeframe attached to them; are they over ten years? Five years? One lump investment? While it’s likely over 10 years, we don’t know for sure yet because of the lack of details. We are expecting this infrastructure plan to be taken up by Congress over the summer, so we could see details in the May timeframe; but that is an educated guess at the moment.
The other issue of concern is the plan’s prospects in Congress. After the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion COVID relief legislation, it’s unclear if there is enough support in a closely divided Congress to spend even more money. Tempering expectations seems to be a wise course of action.
All the same, this is a great show of confidence in the nation’s research community. And it is grounds for some optimism that the country’s leadership sees the benefits of more investments in research. Hopefully, at a minimum, some of this plan will be passed into law. We will be keeping track of this, and other pieces of legislation, and will report back when we know more; please check back for updates.